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Job Accommodations
What are job accommodations and why are they important? There are many to be familiar with, along with best practices on how to handle requests for them. Read on to find out how to respond if an employee requests a job accommodation.

What Are Job Accommodations?

The U.S. Department of Labor defines a job accommodation as “an adjustment to a job or work environment that makes it possible for an individual with a disability to perform their job duties.” Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation(s) or job modification(s)that enable disabled employees/applicants to realize equal opportunities in the workplace without causing undue hardship for an employer. While the concept and process are similar for applicants vs. employees, our focus today will be accommodations for current employees.

Why Are Job Accommodations Important?

If an employee has a medical condition that limits or restricts their ability to complete the essential functions of their job, they may request a reasonable accommodation that would enable them to stay at work or return to work as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).There are several reasons why job accommodations are beneficial for both employees and employers.

Benefits to Employees

Job accommodations are important for employees with disabilities because they allow them to perform job duties, protect them from discrimination and increase their overall productivity in their role.
  • Perform job duties. Accommodations may enable employees with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their job and can vary based on the role, the work environment and their disabilities. Employees must be provided equal benefits and privileges of employment as well, such as access to an onsite cafe.
  • Protection from discrimination. The ADA and ADAAA prohibit unlawful discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all employment processes, including “job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” Retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation is also unlawful.
  • Increase productivity. Job accommodations are typically low cost but can have a positive impact on the employee’s productivity, as well as that of the overall team. Accommodations have also been shown to increase attendance, improve interactions with co-workers and customers, and improve overall morale.

Benefits to Employers

There are several reasons employers should consider reasonable job accommodation requests from the employee.
  • Legal obligations. Employers covered by the ADA regulations (15 or more employees) are required to engage in an interactive accommodation process if an appropriate accommodation is not obvious. Failing to engage in the interactive ADA process may result in expensive litigation. In 2021, Walmart was fined over $125 million for failing to accommodate a disabled employee’s request to slightly adjust their shift by 1-1.5 hours.
  • Maintain performance expectations. A reasonable accommodation does not mean an employer is obligated to accept substandard performance, quality or production. One of the primary benefits of accommodations in the workplace is it allows employees to perform the essential functions of their job; whereas otherwise, they may not have been able to perform at the standards expected.
  • Higher retention. A survey reported that 90% of employers said the primary reason they offer job accommodations is to retain valuable employees. Making minor changes to a work environment, accommodating a flexible schedule or restructuring a work site, can make a big difference in your efforts to retain employees. One benefit of retaining employees is avoiding the time and expense of training a new person.
  • DEIB. When employers cultivate work environments conducive for inclusiveness and belonging by providing accommodations, morale, creativity, and workplace culture improve.

Types of Job Accommodations

Not all people with a disability will require an accommodation, and a specific accommodation may not be appropriate for all people with the same disability. What are potential accommodations in the workplace that employees may request? Remote work, modifications to the work environment and flexible scheduling are a few options to consider.

Remote Work

Remote work is an increasingly popular option that could allow some disabled employees to perform their job off-site. If the essential functions of a job cannot be performed remotely or their performance is suffering, working from home may not be an option.

Work Equipment and Environment

Ergonomic chairs, standing desks, text-to-speech technology, a wheel chair ramp, special parking arrangements or suitable lighting are all examples of accommodations to an employee’s work equipment or environment. Excessive costs may restrict some options, as they may cause undue hardship, so be cognizant if the financial impact is severe.

Work Schedule

A flexible work schedule could also be an option for employees who need to step away from their work station throughout the day or alter their start/end times to accommodate appointments. Other options could include offering reduced hours or part-time work.

And More!

The Job Accommodation Network has an online encyclopedia of potential workplace accommodations based on the disability or work-related function. This free resource is a great option when exploring different accommodation opportunities.

Best Practices for Employers to Handle Job Accommodation Requests

When you receive a request for a job accommodation, it’s important to understand what is being requested, consider the options, discuss options with the employee and carefully document the agreed-upon solutions.

Understand the Request

If an employee indicates they are having a problem related to a medical condition, the employer should consider whether the employee is making a request for accommodation under the ADA. You may ask if they need anything from the company, such as to explore potential reasonable accommodations. If they do, the Job Accommodation Network offers two sample templates employers can utilize to fully understand the accommodation request: Sample Medical Inquiry Form in Response to an Accommodation Request

Consider the Options

Refer to your existing policies, procedures and the job description, as well as what accommodation(s) is being requested. In addition to the accommodation requested, evaluate whether there are other possible accommodations or modifications that may be options. Research additional solutions through the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), determine the cost or impact to the business, and determine if any of the accommodations may cause an undue hardship on the employer.

Collaborate With Management

Without providing any medical information, inform the manager that their employee has requested a reasonable accommodation to enable them to perform the essential functions of the job. List the accommodation request the employee or their care team provided, as well as any additional options you’ve identified. Explore which option(s) would be best for both the individual employee and the business without causing any undue hardship.

Notify and Document

Once the accommodation is agreed upon between HR and management, notify the employee in writing what the approved accommodation(s) are, the start date, and the duration of the accommodation. Review all accommodations every 6 to 12 months to ensure they are still meeting the needs of both the individual employee and the organization. Keep these accommodation documents in a separate file from their personnel folder to follow the confidentiality requirements by the ADA.
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James Barrett

James Barrett

James has worked in the HR field going on 5+ years and has held various positions of leadership. His areas of expertise are in benefits, recruiting, onboarding, HR analytics, engagement, employee relations, and workforce development. He has earned a masters degree in HR, along with a nationally recognized SHRM-SCP certification.
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Melinda Anderson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, MBA

Melinda Anderson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, MBA

Melinda is a senior-level people partner and business leader that is passionate about a positive employee experience, healthy company culture and driving DEI. Melinda serves as a positive change ambassador and the first thing you'll notice about her is her true passion for HR. Helping people and improving workplaces are Melinda's purposes in life, in addition to loving every dog possible!
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